Ian Appleyard GREEK colossus Traianos Dellas has come a long way since quitting Sheffield United five years ago.
One of the stars of this summer's European Championship finals, the towering centre-back was allowed to leave for next-to-nothing after spending the majority of his time on the fringes at Bramall Lane.
Now 28 and in the prime of his career, Dellas snuffed out Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet as Greece pulled off the shock of the tournament last Friday to beat France and book a place in tomorrow's semi-final against the Czech Republic.
To the majority of Blades supporters, his rise to stardom must have come as a major surprise since Dellas spent two seasons in South Yorkshire and never quite managed to cut the mustard. While immense physically, his game – like an unpolished diamond – was far too rough around the edges.
Dellas arrived at Bramall Lane in the summer of 1997, just a few short weeks after the club had suffered defeat in the First Division promotion play-off final to Crystal Palace.
Former chairman Mike McDonald was setting a trail for other English clubs to follow by tapping into the rich seam of affordable talent in Greek football.
Critics felt the main purpose of his 300,000 signing from Aris Salonika was to provide company for Vassilis Borbokis, a far better defender signed from AEK Athens, who went on to play in the Premiership for Derby County.
However, McDonald was also trying to set up a Greek nursery club for the Blades but quit after being spat on by supporters in the club car park.
Former Everton manager Howard Kendall, who had worked for Greek club Xanthi, alerted McDonald to the options during his one season in charge of the Blades.
Others plucked from relative obscurity included midfield player Dmitri Marcos (sold for a profit without even playing a game) and winger Georges Donis, an instant hit in Spring 1999 who then followed manager Steve Bruce out of the door to Huddersfield Town.
Dellas made 31 appearances for the Blades, including 15 as substitute, scoring three goals. He was often injured but covered at centre-back, central midfield, and striker, scoring twice when coming off the bench in a 3-2 win at Tranmere Rovers. His other goal was a memorable long range effort at home to Portsmouth.
After becoming frustrated with life in Sheffield and complaining of 'homesickness', Dellas returned to Greece via AEK Athens in July 2000. Twelve months later, he was sold to Italian side Perugia where his career finally took off.
The Greeks appointed a new manager, Otto Rehhagel, and Dellas became a permanent fixture in the national side. His performances for club and country raised his profile and led to a big money move to Italian giants AS Roma.
Injuries and competition for places have limited his appearances at Stadio Olimpic raising the possibility of a move this summer.
Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp has already expressed an interest but, sadly, there will be no return to Bramall Lane.
For while Blades manager Neil Warnock would undoubtedly love to sign a player who frightens the life out of opposition strikers just by peering over the top of their heads – his value has shot through the roof after Euro 2004.
The Blades can at least reflect on having signed the 'right' player at the 'wrong' time in terms of his footballing development.